Halting emigration: what solutions do politicians envision?

“How should people view the government when prosecutors and Special Investigations Service officers receive raises, but resident doctors, teachers and higher education school lecturers get nothing. Just think, how would they act?” Liberal Movement leader, MP Eugenijus Gentvilas asked regarding the fact that last year approximately same number of people left Lithuania as live in Alytus (around 55 thousand). Politicians who were in power before criticise the current ruling coalition for not taking the necessary measures, albeit admitting they did not do anything themselves, LRT.lt writes.

According to E. Gentvilas, the qualified specialists of various areas who struggle to make a living in Lithuania will choose the now traditional solution of “suitcase and airport or station.”

The Liberal veteran mused that perhaps young individuals who are unable to make a living off their profession may opt to begin a business, however this area is also not experiencing a breakthrough, “There are no tangible exemptions for beginners here, though it should be possible to have a tax holiday for at least half a year or a year after starting a business.”

E. Gentvilas was sceptical of Conservative MP Kęstutis Masiulis‘ proposal to pass legislation which would oblige to encourage returning to Lithuania from emigration, “There are now incentives to leave and then we would just encourage returning, also would pay for it. Firstly we must balance the state’s economic life and reduce social segregation, rather than strengthening the police state even further. I have said and will continue to say this even if PM Saulius Skvernelis may dislike it. He would appear to not have any other concept of the state in mind – only place police officers around himself at the ministry level.”

No quick solutions

LRT.lt attempted to discuss the government’s plans to halt emigration with S. Skvernelis himself. However his press representative passed on that the prime minister does not have time to discuss it.

One of the most influential “Farmer” representatives, first Seimas vice Speaker Rima Baškienė, admitted that emigration is one of the most painful problems, however it is impossible to expect quick solutions to rein it in.

“The emigration numbers are astounding for everyone. Many solutions are needed. But I am optimistic about the future. We must unite to seek ways to reduce emigration because we cannot cry in despair. We must act,” R. Baškienė is convinced.

She stated she believes that the measures which were outlined when approving the 2018 budget should contribute to reducing emigration rates. The “Farmer” representative hopes that support for young families, the so-called children’s money and other social measures should encourage compatriots to remain.

Homeland repels, not beckons

In evaluating the efforts of previous governments, including ones where the Liberals have also worked, to reduce emigration, E. Gentvilas agreed that all the plans and measures would remain just that, “It was thought that here we entered the European Union and emigration will end. But it didn’t and only became faster. Politicians still were under the illusion that the youth will run around a bit and return because supposedly the homeland beckons. But it doesn’t. It repels. Thus I agree that we all – the parties, the Seimas and the president – are to blame that emigration is only rising, however all the options for reducing it are in the hands of the cabinet.”

E. Gentvilas believes that it is necessary to recreate “social balance” as soon as possible – that wages would be raised not for just one specific group, but for all and that large wage gaps would not be felt. The MP also believes that it is necessary to improve conditions for business newcomers. Perhaps some will fail to begin their business at the first time, however those starting will see that conditions for business are favourable, that the first company’s bankruptcy was due to inexperience and that perhaps that mistakes will be avoided the second time.

The Liberal leader noted that an economic breakthrough is also obstructed by a still unreduced army of bureaucrats. He reminded that last September Prime Minister S. Skvernelis had invited him for lunch and requested support for the state service reform amendment package in the coming Seimas session.

“We definitely had goodwill to support the cabinet, however no state service reform projects reached the Seimas so far and the great reformer of it – the government head of staff Milda Dargužaitė has fled the office. I understand that one should not expect miracles within a year, however at least a little turn toward reducing emigration and other important reforms was certainly possible,” E. Gentvilas assured.

A dangerous wave of emigration – professionals fleeing

Social Democrat Party leader, Vilnius vice Mayor Gintautas Paluckas pointed out that emigration is reaching an increasingly threatening character and scale because high qualification specialists are leaving Lithuania – doctors, scientists and teachers.

“After all public sector wages have not been raised for a decade despite continuing price growth. During the previous emigration waves it was the less qualified [with lower professional qualification] people who left and it was simply impossible to stop them because the minimum wage abroad was several times greater than in Lithuania and it was enough for them to live off of. Now we are threatened by a severe brain drain. And after such a wave of emigration it will be difficult for us to recover,” the Social Democrat Party chairman is convinced.

G. Paluckas recalled that the former Social Democrat leader, late Algirdas Brazauskas had directed to create a strategy to rein in emigration during his cabinet, however it remained in bureaucrats’ drawers.

“There is data that certain companies which have annual revenues of around 50-70 million euro are paying their staff 569 euro before tax and could certainly pay more, however there are no means to push them – the unions are weak, there are no traditions of protest. What is worse is that family policy is only in fragments, if it was otherwise, parents would not leave simply for their children’s welfare,” G. Paluckas says.

He admitted that while in power the Social Democrats did almost nothing to halt emigration – family policy, education and other important reforms were sacrificed for the coalition with the Labour Party, “A conscious distance was held to important reforms and our party had no influence on reducing emigration. However this does not remove accountability.”

According to G. Paluckas it is necessary to finally listen to scientists and the results of their sociological research – family policy and education reforms are the key means to halt emigration.

“Meanwhile now we have no kindergartens, extracurricular activities for children require payment, education quality is unsatisfactory for many and we are all prepared already in school that we will have to go study somewhere else. We criticised the government programme when it was just being prepared that it did not even contain the word “emigration”. It was explained that supposedly it melds horizontally in the other measures. But those measures, as we see, are not all that effective,” G. Paluckas said.

He pointed out psychological circumstances for emigration as well – people feel unneeded, that no-one protects them, rarely receive any good words or encouragement from their employers. Prospects of faith in one’s country are also not increased by the increasing number of prohibitions, which according to the Social Democrat leader may continue increasing in the future.

“Thus we chose to enter the opposition because any urges or requests to discuss painful issues would bounce off as if from a wall. Democrature is taking hold – there’s more of us so we’ll do as we will. In other words the current government is acting as if old nomenclature, seeking to survive at any cost,” the Social Democrat leader said.

Wide paths trod to emigration

Social democrat Algirdas Sysas, who led the Seimas Committee of Social Security and Labour in last term’s Seimas, admitted that the rates of emigration no longer surprise him. He is convinced that until public sector staff wages are raised and social reforms are not truly implemented, the paths to emigration will only grow wider.

When initiating the new Labour Code, our former leader Algirdas Butkevičius explained that it will help create 85 thousand jobs, intensively interacted with businessmen. We now see the results. I feel guilty for it though as the committee chairman I often opposed, but what of it,” A. Sysas lamented, admitting that the policies of the A. Butkevičius and other cabinets were incorrect, which is why emigration is on the rise.

The MP doubted that quick acting “medicines” can be found to reduce emigration and compared Lithuania to Ireland, which had also greatly “bled” due to intensive emigration. The Irish began returning to their homeland only after twenty of more years abroad.

A. Sysas did not deny that his own daughter who finished studies in France did not find work in Lithuania. She packed her bags and left, now works in Brussels.

Planned measures – meagre

Former Conservative minister of social security and labour, MP Rimantas Dagys echoed his colleagues that the Skvernelis cabinet’s planned measures to reduce emigration are so far only symbolic. “It is planned that young families will be able to receive exemptions for housing loans (there are plans to compensate a part of the interest), however next year’s budget only has 2 million euro set aside for this. The so called children’s money is also only 30 euro. Such a sum certainly does not motivate to raise children in Lithuania. Take our neighbours the Poles where for the first child the family receives 150 euro and the sum rises with the number of children,” he said.

When asked why his and other parties did not take the necessary measures to halt emigration while in power, R. Dagys assured that he consistently spoke of it, however everyone only came to realisation when Lithuania began to lack workforce. Just unfortunately, according to the politician, businesses would rather have employees from third countries for minimal wages.

Assessing the experiences of neighbouring countries in reducing emigration, the conservative observed that Hungary already has ministries of the family and human resources. Similar institutions are also active in Poland.

“Three officials are responsible for family policy in the Social Security and Labour Ministry in Lithuania, while no-one is dealing with emigration policy. The Ministry of the Interior only registers arrivals and returns on a wall. Do emigrated compatriots feel like they are expected in their homeland? Furthermore we are clashing ourselves and cursing one another – the politicians are bad, the media is bad. Everyone is bad. So who would want to live in such a country?” R. Dagys mused.

He stated that the begun pension reform will also not yield anything because the majority is not beginning tax reform. The planned pension indexing, according to the conservative, will only protect pensioners living in poverty traps from inflation, but won’t save them from poverty.

“Thus young people, seeing that they will not be even able to earn a normal pension in Lithuania are emigrating. In other words, we must begin wide range reforms as soon as possible. Only one thing is good about emigration, which has been only rising since 1998, as of recently we have begun actually talking about it,” quipped R. Dagys. However he admitted that his party was also unable to rein in emigration.

The conservative revealed that he would not have any answer if any of his children chose to emigrate due to the low wages. One of R. Dagys’ sons has a PhD, another is studying for his doctorate. However according to the MP they earn less than the recent wage increases for prosecutors and other law enforcement officials.

“Lithuania is already a unique country in terms of emigration rates. I know no other country which would have lost around 800 thousand people in twenty years,” R. Dagys did not conceal his pessimism.

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